Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/For my Wife and Children (Letter to my Wife)/Chapter 19

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Response to "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife"): Chapter 19 - Facsimile #3

A FairMormon Analysis of: For my Wife and Children (Letter to my Wife), a work by author: Anonymous

Response to claims made in "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife"): Chapter 19 - Facsimile #3

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Response to claim: "In the Book of Abraham, Joseph interprets Facsimile #3 as Abraham sitting on Pharaoh’s throne teaching the court the principles of astronomy"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

In the Book of Abraham, Joseph interprets Facsimile #3 as Abraham sitting on Pharaoh’s throne teaching the court the principles of astronomy. He labels figure 1 as Abraham and figure 2 as Pharaoh. Actually this is Osiris, God of the Underworld, and his goddess wife Isis. The hieroglyphics above each of their heads identify them as such.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The concept that Abraham taught the Egyptians astronomy is found the writings of Josephus and in Pseudo-Eupolemus. Clark notes that "the book's last facsimile (no. 3) depicts Pharaoh-who traditionally claimed exclusive possession of priesthood and kingship (Abr. 1:25-27)-honoring Abraham's priesthood by allowing him to occupy the throne and instruct the court in astronomy (cf. Pseudo-Eupolemus; Josephus, Antiquities 1.viii.2)".[1]



Question: What is the correct interpretation of Facsimile 3?

Rhodes: "It represents the judgment of the dead before the throne of Osiris"

According to Michael D. Rhodes in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism,

Facsimile 3 presents a constantly recurring scene in Egyptian literature, best known from the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead. It represents the judgment of the dead before the throne of Osiris. It is likely that it came at the end of the Book of Breathings text, of which Facsimile 1 formed the beginning, since other examples contain vignettes similar to this. Moreover, the name of Hor, owner of the papyrus, appears in the hieroglyphs at the bottom of this facsimile.

Joseph Smith explained that Facsimile 3 represents Abraham sitting on the pharaoh's throne teaching principles of astronomy to the Egyptian court. Critics have pointed out that the second figure, which Joseph Smith says is the king, is the goddess Hathor (or Isis). There are, however, examples in other papyri, not in the possession of Joseph Smith, in which the pharaoh is portrayed as Hathor. In fact, the whole scene is typical of Egyptian ritual drama in which costumed actors played the parts of various gods and goddesses.

In summary, Facsimile 1 formed the beginning, and Facsimile 3 the end of a document known as the Book of Breathings, an Egyptian religious text dated paleographically to the time of Jesus. Facsimile 2, the hypocephalus, is also a late Egyptian religious text. The association of these facsimiles with the book of Abraham might be explained as Joseph Smith's attempt to find illustrations from the papyri he owned that most closely matched what he had received in revelation when translating the Book of Abraham. Moreover, the Prophet's explanations of each of the facsimiles accord with present understanding of Egyptian religious practices. [2]

Gee and Hauglid: "most Books of Breathings Made by Isis show a man with his hands raised in adoration to a cow"

However, BYU Egyptologist John Gee challenges the notion that Facsimile 3 is associated with Book of the Dead 125,

[B]oth Facsimile 1 and Facsimile 3 are assumed to belong to the Book of Breathings Made by Isis because they accompanied the text in the Joseph Smith Papyri. Yet the contemporary parallel texts of the Book of Breathings Made by Isis belonging to members of the same family have different vignettes associated with them. Instead of a scene like Facsimile 3, most Books of Breathings Made by Isis show a man with his hands raised in adoration to a cow. This indicates that the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham do not belong to the Book of Breathings. [3]


Question: Are there any known parallels between elements of Joseph's interpretation of Facsimile 3 with other ancient texts?

The following parallels exist between Joseph's interpretations and other ancient texts

  • Abraham being seated next to a king—The Qisas includes an account of Abraham being seated next to a king. [4]
  • Abraham taught the Egyptians astronomy—The concept that Abraham taught the Egyptians astronomy is found the writings of Josephus and in Pseudo-Eupolemus. Clark notes that "the book's last facsimile (no. 3) depicts Pharaoh-who traditionally claimed exclusive possession of priesthood and kingship (Abr. 1:25-27)-honoring Abraham's priesthood by allowing him to occupy the throne and instruct the court in astronomy (cf. Pseudo-Eupolemus; Josephus, Antiquities 1.viii.2)".[5]


Question: What are the criticisms regarding Joseph's interpretation of specific textual elements of Facsimile 3?

Characters in the facsimile

Critics focus on three specific interpretations which reference an interpretation of characters in the facsimile. Joseph Smith provides the following identifications for three of the figures in the facsimile:

  • Fig. 2. King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head.
  • Fig. 4. Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand.
  • Fig. 5. Shulem, one of the king’s principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand.

What is notable in these particular identifications is that Joseph isn't simply assigning an identify to each figure, but is indicating that characters located near each figure confirm the assignments. Egyptologists note that the characters have an entirely different meaning.

The name Shulem

We do not know why Joseph assigned the name "Shulem" to figure #5. Hugh Nibley notes,

But where does Abraham come in? What gives a "family-night" aspect to our Facsimile 3 is figure 5, who commands the center of the stage. Instead of his being Abraham or Pharaoh, as we might expect, he is simply "Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters." To the eye of common sense, all of Joseph Smith's interpretations are enigmatic; to illustrate his story best, the man on the throne should be Pharaoh, of course, and the man standing before him with upraised hand would obviously be Abraham teaching him about the stars, while figure 6 would necessarily be Abraham's servant (Eliezer was, according to tradition, a black man).252 But if we consult the Egyptian parallels to this scene instead of our own wit and experience, we learn that the person normally standing in the position of 5 is the owner of the stele and is almost always some important servant in the palace, boasting in the biographical inscription of his glorious proximity to the king. Hall's collection of biographical stelae includes a Chief of Bowmen, Singer of Amon, Chief Builder, Scribe of the Temple, Chief Workman of Amon, Fan Bearer, King's Messenger, Guardian of the Treasury, Director of Works, King's Chief Charioteer, Standard Bearer, Pharaoh's Chief Boatman, Intendant of Pharaoh's Boat-crew, Warden of the Harim, the Queen's Chief Cook, Chief of Palace Security, etc.253 All these men, by no means of royal blood, but familiars of the palace, have the honor of serving the king in intimate family situations and are seen coming before him to pay their respects at family gatherings. Some of them, like the King's Chief Charioteer, have good Syrian and Canaanite names, like our "Shulem"—how naturally he fits into the picture as "one of the King's principal waiters!" The fact that high serving posts that brought one into close personal contact with Pharaoh—the greatest blessing that life had to offer to an Egyptian—were held by men of alien (Canaanite) blood shows that the doors of opportunity at the court were open even to foreigners like Abraham and his descendants.

But why "Shulem"? He plays no part in the story. His name never appears elsewhere; he simply pops up and then disappears. And yet he is the center of attention in Facsimile 3! That is just the point: These palace servants would in their biographical stelae glorify the moment of their greatest splendor for the edification of their posterity forever after. This would be one sure means of guaranteeing a preservation of Abraham's story in Egypt. We are told in the book of Jubilees that Joseph in Egypt remembered how his father Jacob used to read the words of Abraham to the family circle.254 We also know that the Egyptians in their histories made fullest use of all sources available—especially the material on the autobiographical stelae served to enlighten and instruct posterity.255 Facsimile 3 may well be a copy on papyrus of the funeral stele of one Shulem who memorialized an occasion when he was introduced to an illustrious fellow Canaanite in the palace. A "principal waiter" (wdpw) could be a very high official indeed, something like an Intendant of the Palace. Shulem is the useful transmitter and timely witness who confirms for us the story of Abraham at court. [6]


Notes

  1. E. Douglas Clark, "Abraham," Encyclopedia of Mormonism off-site
  2. Michael Rhodes, in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., "Book of Abraham," Encyclopedia of Mormonism off-site
  3. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, "Facsimile 3 and Book of the Dead 125," Astronomy, Papyrus and Covenant, Neal A. Maxwell Institute.
  4. Bradley J. Cook, "The Book of Abraham and the Islamic Qisas al-Anbiya< (Tales of the Prophets) Extant Literature," Dialogue 33/4 (2000): 127—46.
  5. E. Douglas Clark, "Abraham," Encyclopedia of Mormonism off-site
  6. Hugh W. Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, "All the Court's a Stage: Facsimile 3, a Royal Mumming," (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute) off-site